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|Address:||49 Frith Street, London W1D 4SG|
|Tel:||020 7434 4463|
|Price: £33.00||Wine: £24.00|
|Opening Hours:||Mon-Sat 12N-3pm 5.30-10.30pm (Sun -10pm)|
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The film Tampopo isn’t your usual love story. Yes, there is the hackneyed boy meets girl, saves her and her noodle shop from evil nasty villain, enlists the local tramp to help her make the perfect bowl of noodles, she lives happily every after whilst he rides off into the sunset (in a milk lorry with horns on the cab roof) storyline, but it is really a love story between the Japanese and food. Most especially, but certainly not exclusively, the noodle.
Love doesn’t really do it justice though; maybe obsession is a better word to describe it. In one of the early scenes, the young padawan is learning the correct way to eat a bowl of noodles from the Yoda like master. Should he start with the pork or the noodles? When should he drink the soup? He is told to caress the pork lightly with his chopsticks out of respect, but put it to one side whilst taking some noodles, all the while eyeing the pork. Only once some noodles and some soup have been noisily ingested should the pork be approached. Reverently.
I haven’t a clue whether this makes any sense at all, whether this ritual enhances the noodle eating experience or even whether anyone in Japan actually does this (although, having visited the wonderful country, I suspect that there are some who do). What I do know is that Koya always looks to be packed, with a queue snaking out the front, no matter what time of which day you go. It has thus taken months to actually get here and, having gone, I cannot quite see why the queue is so long.
The food is simple udon noodle fare: big, fat noodles in broth with a choice of toppings. Pork, unusually, doesn't come as sliced, but minced, in a spicy, almost sweet, sauce. The tofu, whilst looking like fried chicken, was, as it should be, totally tasteless, acting as a receptacle for the flavours of the broth. Both dishes fine, but lacking in profundity.
We started with an excellent seaweed salad and some mixed tempura, which was pretty good, if the batter a little on the heavy side; I do like the fact that one of the extra toppings that you can get for the noodles is tempura batter. A bit like the batter bits you used to get in chippies: an ingenious use of what would otherwise go to waste. The poached egg that you can get as a topping actually comes in the shell, and would seem like an excellent addition to some of the soups, although not necessarily the already rich pork dish our neighbour tried it with.
Staff are friendly enough, just a bit slow. And the place wasn't even full. And here's the thing; there is no booking, so you stand outside and wait for a table, most of which are shared. There were spare seats (well, unless those occupied by handbags count as being used), yet there was still a queue outside. Why? The only reason that I can see is that there it is a deliberate ploy by management always to make the place look over busy.
That is daft; practically next door you have Barafina, which also has a no-booking policy, yet if there is a seat free, it is filled. Forget what impression you're trying to leave, get people through.
What do I know though? I only ate here. I'm glad I did, but I'll be buggered if I'm going to stand around in the cold waiting for the table that I can see is (but for a sodding handbag) free to be deemed ready for me, just to make the restaurant look more enticing than it actually is. The place is cheapish, but not so cheap, not so great value for money that I could forgive this cynicism. There are places, maybe even more expensive places, that represent much better value for money than this.